CERT responders jump into action — but it's all for practice

Voices coming in over Dennis O'Hern's radio reported an imaginary disaster on Lido Isle on Saturday morning.

"This is Lido 6. We have an incident to report. There's a telephone pole. It has fallen."

O'Hern responded to each one, asking for more information or giving instructions, practicing how he'd respond during an actual emergency.

In this case, it was a hypothetical 7.2 earthquake hitting a mile inland from Hoag Hospital at 8:37 a.m.

Starting at 9 a.m., members of the Newport Beach Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) jumped into action.

CERT is a civilian group trained by the Newport Beach Fire Department to be an integral part of large-scale emergency response.

"It's very much a neighbors-helping-neighbors approach," said Matt Brisbois, a life safety specialist with the Fire Department who coordinated the drill.

Saturday gave the trained civilians a chance to act out how they'd coordinate with the city's official first-responders.

In each of eight neighborhoods, dozens of teams surveyed every block.

The teams had to respond to anything from a broken arm to a burst sewer main and then report back to O'Hern and his counterparts, who would relay that information to a small room next to the Emergency Operations Center in Newport Beach City Hall.

During an actual emergency, the CERT members in that room would sort through the information and pass it on to city officials nearby.

"We're really trying to create a culture of preparedness here in Newport," Brisbois said.

Saturday was the first time Newport Beach's award-winning Community Emergency Response Team has held such a large-scale drill. It included hundreds of CERT members across eight of the city's 154 neighborhoods.

The exercise gave the volunteers a taste of how much radio traffic might be going on in a real emergency.

"In reality, we'll never have a disaster that affects just one neighborhood," Brisbois said.

On Lido, survey team members in their CERT gear also served as a reminder that the island might be on its own for a while after a major event, volunteer Mary Anna Jeppe said.

"The simple thing is to have each Lido resident prepare themselves," Jeppe said.

More information about CERT and how to become a member is available at NBCERT.org.

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